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Last updated January 2, 2020. 4 minute read

How can you make Viagra more effective?

There are things you can do to make Viagra more effective. Those include taking the medication at the right time, not taking it on a full stomach, and not taking it with alcohol or illicit drugs.

Self Written by Michael Martin
Reviewed by Dr. Mike Bohl, MD, MPH

Viagra (sildenafil) is a highly effective oral medication for erectile dysfunction (ED). But if you’ve been experiencing ED, a prescription shouldn’t do all the work. Certain lifestyle changes—including diet and exercise—can go a long way toward making Viagra (or any other ED medication) more effective.

Vitals

  • Viagra (sildenafil) is a medication that can help with erectile dysfunction (ED).
  • But there are things you can do to make Viagra more effective.
  • Those include taking the medication at the right time, not taking it on a full stomach, and not taking it with alcohol or illicit drugs.
  • Talk with a healthcare provider about the best Viagra dosage for you.

What is Viagra?

Viagra is the brand name of sildenafil, an oral medication used to treat erectile dysfunction (ED). It’s one of a class of drugs known as PDE-5 inhibitors. Others include Cialis (tadalafil) and Levitra (vardenafil).

The first oral medication for ED approved by the FDA, Viagra was released by Pfizer in 1998. Today, sildenafil is also sold as a drug for a certain type of high blood pressure in the lungs under the brand name Revatio.

How does Viagra work?

Viagra works by stopping the chemical reaction that causes blood to leave an erect penis. Viagra blocks cGMP-specific phosphodiesterase type-5 (PDE-5), an enzyme that encourages blood to flow out of the penis. When PDE-5 is inhibited, levels of cGMP remain elevated, which relaxes smooth muscle and encourages blood vessels to widen (a process known as vasodilation). That makes blood flow more freely, including to the penis.

Viagra doesn’t work automatically. You must feel sexually aroused to experience its effects.

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What impacts the effectiveness of Viagra?

Several factors can influence how quickly and completely Viagra works once you take it. Those include:

Taking it on a full stomach

If you take Viagra on a full stomach—particularly with a heavy, high-fat meal—the medication may take longer to work. A full stomach can delay your body’s absorption of Viagra, meaning your erection might come later than expected, be less strong than you wanted, and not last as long as you would’ve liked. (That doesn’t mean you need to take Viagra on an empty stomach.)

Drinking alcohol or taking drugs

Unfortunately, Viagra doesn’t make you invincible from “whiskey dick.” Alcohol is a depressant that affects every system in the body, including those that work to produce an erection. Booze can worsen the symptoms of ED; so can illicit drugs and marijuana. Chronic heavy drinking can damage the liver, heart, and nerves and reduce testosterone—all of which can lead to ED.

Not giving it long enough to work

Take Viagra one to four hours before sexual activity. If you take it sooner than one hour before you have sex, it might not lead to an erection that’s as firm or long-lasting as you’d like. Talk with a healthcare provider about a safe starting dose or before you change your dose.

Your overall health

Viagra works best when you’re healthy. A healthy body—particularly a healthy heart—is your best asset in overcoming ED. That’s because for Viagra to be more effective, your body needs to function at peak levels. The best way to get longer, stronger erections is by improving blood flow, overall cardiovascular health, and hormone levels. You can do that by:

  • Getting enough cardiovascular exercise. A sedentary lifestyle is a major risk factor for erectile dysfunction. According to a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, men who were inactive or moderately active (30 to 149 minutes of physical activity a week) had 40 to 60% higher odds of ED compared with active men who got 150 or more minutes of physical activity weekly. 
  • Maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding/managing diabetes. A Harvard study found that a man with a 42-inch waist is twice as likely to develop ED as a man with a 32-inch waist. Being overweight is also a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, which can damage nerves and blood vessels throughout the body, including those that supply the penis. That can result in ED.
  • Not smoking. Tobacco smoke contains thousands of toxins that can damage the linings of blood vessels throughout the body—including in the penis. 
  • Avoiding meds that may cause ED, if possible. If you’ve experienced ED after beginning a certain medication (an antidepressant, for example), talk with your healthcare provider about whether it’s possible to switch to another drug with fewer sexual side effects.

Making these systemic changes to your health and habits doesn’t just improve the effectiveness of Viagra. You may get so healthy that you don’t even need erectile dysfunction medication anymore. At least, that’s the goal.

Read more about 11 all-natural ways to protect your erection.

Potential side effects of Viagra

Common side effects of Viagra include dizziness, headache, flushing, upset stomach or indigestion, abnormal vision (such as increased sensitivity to light, blurred vision, or blue-tinted vision), nasal congestion or runny nose, back pain, insomnia, rash, and muscle pain.

Less common side effects of Viagra include priapism (a prolonged, painful erection that won’t go away), heart attack-like symptoms such as chest pain, eye problems such as sudden vision loss, ringing in ears or hearing loss, seizures, or swelling in the extremities. (If you experience any of these, you should seek medical advice right away.)